BY Art Thiel 04:35PM 12/02/2014

Thiel: Never mind future, say Mariners: It’s now

After being outwitted by Oakland and KC, the Mariners hope Cruz fixes the long problem at DH (how was that possible?) and their longer problem of missing the playoffs.

Nelson Cruz figures to fill a decade-old roster chasm at designated hitter. /

Mortification nearly complete, the Mariners are throwing money the way tourists on ferries throw French fries to seagulls. Nobody cares if fried fat kills the birds, or fills the deck with poop. It’s fun!

In order to succeed, Major League Baseball is supposed to be fun. CEO Howard Lincoln obviously, finally, gets that. His priority of a business run properly has been marginalized.

First came the easy task, throwing money at the beloved Felix Hernandez ($175 million). Then came the hardest thing, out-bidding the Yankees and over-overpaying for total stranger Robinson Cano ($240M). After swallowing that barbed wire,  this week came easy, paying homegrown Kyle Seager $100M for seven years and PED outlaw slugger Nelson Cruz $57M.

For those scoring at home, that’s a total commitment of $572 million. Half a bill, as we say in the venture capital world. All going into investments that likely will decline most years in production per unit, instead of increase.

But, again, this is about fun, not business.

For 12 years, baseball fun in Seattle has been negligible. In 2014, intrigue developed. But the Kansas City Royals, of all teams, outsmarted the Mariners for a postseason spot.

Then the Royals went on to become the sports darlings of 2014 with two sparkling playoff series triumphs. They reached the seventh game of the World Series before succumbing to one of the greatest pitching performances in MLB postseason history.

It was not difficult for any Mariners owner, executive or fan to imagine Seattle celebrating just as hard as did the KC marketplace after ending its 29-year postseason drought. Yet despite a 16-game improvement unseen by any preseason pundit, the Mariners’ 87 wins were still not enough to catch Oakland (88) and the Royals (89), who beat the A’s in the wild-card play-in.

That’s where the mortification sets in. In the time since the Mariners last made the playoffs in 2001, the low-rent A’s have done it six times. Then the even lower-rent Royals leapfrogged both in September.

Both teams have done a consistently better job in developing talent than the Mariners. The Moneyball, data-driven decisions made by the A’s Billy Beane, you know about. But the lesser-known story of Royals GM Dayton Moore is no less remarkable.

Taking over a disheveled organization in 2006 after coming over from the Atlanta Braves, Moore and his scouts piled up good draft after good draft. By 2009, all of the major homegrown players we saw in the World Series were in the organization. It took trades of quality players such as Zach Greinke, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to fill some holes. The long process meant losing records through 2012 for Moore, who begged for, and received, patience from ownership.

In 2013, the Royals had only their second winning season (86-76) in 20 years. By 2014, they were the envy of the industry. In its annual awards, Baseball America magazine named the Royals its organization of the year.

The Mariners? They may win Chase Bank’s 2015 ATM of the Year.

Which is not to say I think hiring Cruz is a bad idea, even if he will be 35 in July and 39 when his deal is up.

The Mariners, outwitted again by the smaller-budget A’s and Royals, have been desperate for years now; Seager is the first homegrown position player to be an All-Star since Alex Rodriguez was plundering sorority row at the University of Washington.

Lincoln has run out of time to do what he promised to do in a 2012 interview: Turn things around before he retires/sells. Many fans long ago ran out of patience, yet the uptick last summer increased attendance by more than 250,000.

Cruz, the 2014 MLB home run leader at the Camden Yards shoebox, is the right-handed power bat they craved, and filled the Mariners’ greatest positional need — designated hitter, fergawdsakes.

The easiest position in baseball to fill, the one Edgar Martinez handled so well from 1995-2004 that MLB named the annual DH award for him, has been a Seattle nightmare on a par with Mercer Street.

Since Martinez’s retirement, pointed out the Seattle DH has been the game’s least productive. Over 10 years, Boston, primarily with David Ortiz, had a cumulative 32 WAR. The Mariners were last at -11.7 WAR. That span is nearly as improbable as comprehending distances between galaxies.

Last season (un)led by Corey Hart, Mariners’ DHs had an OPS of .567, fourth-worst since the position was created in 1973. The DHs in 2014 ranked last in the AL in batting average (.190), RBIs (50), slugging percentage (.301) and on-base percentage (.266).

How that futility came to sustain itself is mind-numbing, and a symbol of the club’s many personnel failures. But the Mariners solved it for 2015 the best (only?) way they know how — throwing money. And their first-round draft pick in 2015, at 19 now.

The riches that come from owning its regional sports network mean that Cruz’s $14M average annual salary is affordable, even with paying Cano, Hernandez and Seager. As always with these big, long-term contracts, the question is what happens down the road when Cruz and Cano, who turned 32 in October, enter their baseball dotage.

But after 13 seasons lost in the baseball wilderness, it apparently does not matter to the Mariners. They have been outsmarted by their lessers in Oakland and Kansas City, and outshined by brethren in Seattle, the Seahawks.

The Mariners shall feed the beast now, and let someone else worry about where the seagulls went.



  • Big

    Well the M’s have been given the fans the business for decades. Time to have some fun. Those national league hitters do they ever hit well in the american league?

  • 1coolguy

    Cruz = ROIDS. For reference, check Beltre.

    • RadioGuy

      Got any evidence of Beltre taking steroids? Allegations don’t mean s–t.

  • Jamo57

    I remember back during the MLB steroid hearings on Capitol Hill, Rep. Jim Bunning said something that has always stuck in my memory. That being that PEDs were most noticeable in what they did to the arc an MLB players career. The fact that players were posting huge numbers, sometimes career bests, in their late 30s and early 40s was huge part of the sham the ‘roids were making of baseball statistics relative to history.

    I’ve watched with some curiosity since to see if normal career arcs would begin to return to the game and it seems like they have. Given that trend, throwing this much money at a player entering his 35th year on the planet seems really risky to me. It’s possible Cruz may remain productive for a couple of more years, but it could be equally as likely the Ms have purchased a used car with high miles just before the tranny and engine block need some major work. Are we about to witness another Sexton-esque contract in Seattle? Time will tell…….

    • Brien McGuire

      In Sexson’s first two years in Seattle, he posted OPS of .910 and .842 (OPS+ of 144 and 117). He ripped 39 and 34 homers those years. I sure hope this Cruz deal turns out that well. Let’s be honest, we aren’t really expecting the final two years on this contract to be worth anything, but if we get two years like that, we should be ecstatic.

      • Jamo57

        Thanks for the reminder and correction. His RBIs weren’t too bad either in those first two years. He was 30 when he arrived here, but point taken.

        As someone who has no problem with the Percy Harvin era with the Hawks (they won their first SB with him), I would be consider the Cruz contract a good investment if he only hit one HR over the course of his deal, if it were to win a World Series. But such a deal for a soon to be 35 year old still strikes me as risky. As it was not my money but Paul Allen’s with Harvin, I guess it really doesn’t matter personally.

  • jafabian

    Not expecting Cruz to match the production he gave the O’s this past season but its possible he can get to around the level of the 2013 Kendry Morales (23 HRs, 80 RBIs, .277 BA) and give Cano the protection he needs and Seager runners on base when he comes to bat. I imagine next on Jack’s wishlist is either a lefty for the rotation and maybe a veteran for the bullpen. Would like to see a veteran to back up Zunino also.

    Color me curious as to next season. Jack has had a winning season before and then the team sunk the next season. Make or break time for him.

  • Jeff Shope

    We don’t care about playoffs we wan a title period